Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Yin and Yang

I'm a full-time RVer. I'm a sailor without a boat. I was thinking about how the two compare.

Mt Shasta, August 2017 

Yin. For me anyway RVing is destination-based. We decide where we're going and make plans to get there. Don't get me wrong we pass through some pretty country, but we're doing it at highway speeds.  If we want to stop and look along the way, traveling with fifty feet of bus and trailer as well as a dog and two cats makes visiting roadside attractions a little problematic. With the bus we arrive, set up base camp and go exploring in the car or on the motorcycles. If we want to visit something the pets are perfectly content to lay around the bus while we go see the world's largest sneaker. Rolling down the road is stressful for me sometimes. Heavy traffic, road construction, confusing signage, shit roads (I'm talking to you Pennsylvania!), and abundant wildlife/road interactions make travelling a chore at times. When you arrive all of that goes away; grocery shopping at ten thirty with the retirees, a National Park on a Tuesday, Happy Hour on Thursday, go where they aren't is my motto.

Fat guy driving a boat, 2016

Yang. Sailing for me is journey-based. Sailing is the beautiful part, preparing the sails, checking the mechanicals, and provisioning the boat not so much. With a beam reach in a good wind all you can hear is the gurgle of water from behind the transom. Snacks in the cockpit, maybe a little music, heave to for a swim in shark infested waters (If I'm going to go, being eaten by a shark is in my top ten) (as a side note: being partially eaten by a shark is in my bottom ten). Nothing happens very fast, I can scan the horizon for hours without seeing anything that requires my attention. Try that on a freeway. When we moved to LA in 2004 I had very little experience with commute traffic except for a brief commute from Napa to San Jose. Fast forward a few years and the only thing that kept me from losing my shit some days was knowing we could untie the dock lines and sail to Two Harbors on Catalina for the weekend.

Heading for the notch at Two Harbors, 2016
Welcome to the Sunshine state, January 2018

Is one better than the other?  I don't think so, to me they are complimentary. It sure is nice to be able to ride the motorcycles all day on fire roads, come home to the RV which is right where we left it, take a nice warm shower and sleep in a queen size bed. It's also nice to sail into a quiet anchorage out of the wind and swell, drink sundowners and watch the sunset from the cockpit. Does it suck to be stuck in traffic for hours, yes, but so is trying to sleep on a mooring when you are taking the swell on the beam.  

Yin and Yang

Dolphins off the starboard bow, 2016

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Gloucester, MA, the Fishermen's Memorial

The Gloucester Fishermen's Memorial left us a little speechless. All the images I'd seen before showed it in crazy rain and whipped up waters, I was somewhat ill-prepared for visiting on such a picture perfect day. The birds were singing, the cherry blossoms rained petals down on us, the slight breeze on the water pushed the sailboats around lightheartedly; it felt so out of place to be reading about the documented 5000+ men lost at sea who had departed from this harbor over the centuries.

And yet, of course, the sea does what she wants and she can be heartless. This memorial was a poignant reminder of her devious ways. So maybe it was fitting that she show us her seductive side while we read with horror about her treachery.

The rocky coastline of the Atlantic, on a picture-perfect Spring day

A walk around town revealed what I had long suspected would be true. The buildings, doorways, street layout, it all feels like a sailor's handiwork, it's obvious to me that much of the architect's plans were actually brought to life by the same hands that built the ships. Boat parts are incorporated into the sidewalks, sculptures, windows, and doorways in town and it feels quite natural that way.

The doorways of Gloucester have personalities of their own, often exhibiting boat hardware as handles

We love it here on this beautiful Spring day.  As much as the sea, it's also the town itself that pulls you in. On a day like today it's easy to imagine buying a little place on the water and settling in, planting a cherry tree out front and chatting with the neighbors from a colorful Adirondack chair.  In fact, just North of town in Rockport there are dozens of new homes going in right on the beach doing just that. But I wonder about the wisdom in that. There are snow sticks on the fire extinguishers around here, and big snow plow blades left parked just outside of town, all of which give warning to some truly nasty weather at times.

We will not be seduced by Gloucester into settling down.
We will not... we will not... we will not!

Friday, May 11, 2018

DC on a minimalist lifestyle

The White House

I dipped my toe in the water. It was cold.  I took one step further so the water was up to my knees, it wasn't getting any more tolerable.  I decided against a swim after all. On my way out of the pool area I passed a sign pointing to a doorway under the cafe, it read "hot tub".  Now, that's the ticket. This place really does have everything.

Upon entering I saw one old man in the hot tub, hesitated for a moment, decided to proceed, and settled in across from him.  Like all RV park conversations do, it quickly turned to "what have you seen? have you done this yet"...

As he ticked off the list of significant sites in the area I shook my head no again and again, and he tsk tsked at me, clearly disappointed that I hadn't been running crazy to see everything there is to see in DC.

The Eisenhower Executive Office Building, right next door to the White House, might be my favorite building in DC.

The truth is, Lance and I had talked about this at length before arriving here.  We boiled it down to three things we really wanted to do, and we did them.

This is the minimalist way.  Pick the things that are important to US, not anyone else, and let the rest go. It's my nature to rush around and stuff everything I can into every moment so this is a regular struggle for me, in fact it was nearly impossible at first but it's getting easier with regular practice.

We started our minimalist journey over a year ago by letting go of duplicate kitchen utensils before moving on to letting go of nearly everything else we own, it seems so long ago now. Approaching our "must do" list using the same attitude took some adjusting but we're getting the hang of it.

For example, we are still reaching for Maine in early June. Between here and there: Baltimore, Philadelphia, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Boston, Salem... the list goes on and on.  I was building a hopskotch list to touch briefly on all of it, and feeling dissatisfied with it.  Lance was able to assign a name to my unhappiness "we're moving around too much, pick what you really want to do and let's do it properly". Again, minimalism in life.

He's right. So we'll be settling in for almost a month in a Boston suburb, within day-trip reach of Salem, Gloucester, and Plymouth Rock.  I had to let go of New York, New Jersey pizza (yes we've met folks that brag about it) and the rest of the list for now. Maybe we'll circle back around to them another time (happily, I think to myself, almost everything I want to see is on the coast so maybe someday will be aboard our future boat).

Anyways, coming back to the old man in the hot tub, he finally asked with exasperation "well what DID you do?"  I smiled:

I accomplished some important work for a client that saved them a lot of money.  I still work as hard as I always have, so the fun gets scheduled after the work is done. Somehow, in my little RV office instead of my former dedicated office 10x12 room at the house, I am able to focus better and enjoy the work.

We spent a whole day and a half in the Air & Space Museum, read every plaque and were totally present for all of it.

Sculpture in front of the Air & Space Museum

We rode around the Circulator bus and saw all the monuments (from the bus - it was 95 degrees and muggy that day) and hopped off for a few carefully selected close-ups. We chatted with folks we met there, including a band of young musicians from Norway who were so pale they were nearly translucent, I worried that they had enough sunblock, wondered if enough sunblock existed in the world to keep them safe.

We ate a meal at Old Ebbitt's Grill, the oldest saloon in Washington, and watched the politicians and tourists hob-nobbing. We were fully present for all of it, even noticing when the neighboring table skipped out on their tab in such a casual way nobody else noticed. The wait staff was so slow it took them 40 minutes or so to figure it out.

We photographed DC at night and it was stunning. The vibe of the city really changes at night and we lounged on the National Mall lawn while the camera snapped away time-lapse mode.

Capitol building and Reflecting Pool

We spent an afternoon drinking rum on the marina patio at Pusser's in Annapolis, and Lance made some connections that will help him pursue one of his photography ideas.

A park in a residential area of Annapolis. Many of the homes here have their own docks in their backyards.
Now that's livin'!

We played a round of mini golf at the RV park, the course was surprisingly tricky and Lance ended up beating me by one stroke, but it was back-and-forth the whole way.

The old man rolled his eyes at me and announced he was going to see Gettysburg the next day. Well, afternoon really because they had things to do in the morning, well, really they were going to just get an hour or so there.

I heard that Gettysburg is nearly a religious experience, and to allow some time.  I'm going to go when I can properly enjoy it.

I wished him well on his tour, and returned to the bus to find Lance lounging and reading a book, his photos uploaded successfully to Shutterstock.

Our journey, our way, just perfect for us.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Getting Around Washington DC, the Smithsonian and the Air & Space Museum

At the suggestion of folks on the Full-Time RVers Facebook group, we booked our Washington DC stay at Cherry Hill Park in College Park, MD.  We heard that it was the closest to Washington DC.

Lance at the Smithsonian Castle

The park hosts an orientation every day at 4:00, and you can buy a SmarTrip transit pass at the front desk and it works just about everywhere; the bus departs all day from the park to the subway station, the subway pops up just off the National Mall in the middle of everything, the DC's local bus line "the Circulator" goes around the lawn as well and offers hop on/off service to most of the attractions around the lawn. So depending on your timing and the amount of hopping on and off you do, a day's transit will cost around $5-$8 per person.  We also discovered we could skip the bus on the park end and drive directly to the subway station and park for $2 on a Saturday and free on a Sunday, more on a weekday. The SmarTrip card covers parking fees, too.

The back of the Smithsonian Castle

The Smithsonian Castle

We had a list of things we wanted to see in DC, at the top of the list was the Smithsonian Castle and the Air & Space Museum. I thought they were the same but we discovered that the Smithsonian is actually several buildings with several different museums, the castle being only one of them.

Lunar Lander
Saturn 5 First Stage Rocket, 1 of 5
The entrance at the Air & Space Museum

Apollo Command Module, used to return from Skylab 4,
up close you can see the honeycomb structure of the heat shield

We also discovered that April and May are school field trip heavy for very young students, and the chaperone-to-student ratio was insufficient to manage them properly. It was nearly impossible to get anywhere in DC with the kids pushing and shoving on a Thursday in late April, Saturday's crowd was families and older students who were calmer and had better manners, the students we encountered on Saturday were likely out on their Senior Class trips and were polite near-adults.

The Original Wright Brothers Plane - so very fragile-looking in person

The Original Wright Brothers Glider which they crashed again and again until they got a grip on the wing-warping that allowed them to control the plane's direction

One of my favorite discoveries in the Air & Space Museum was a whole section devoted to navigation, a minor obsession since childhood days of backpacking in the wilderness with my Dad, later fed by scuba diving in low visibility and sailing in areas with flash fog. I guess it shouldn't be surprising that they devoted a whole wing to the subject, typically great leaps in humanity go hand-in-hand with technology to aid them, in this case great leaps forward in mapping the new world and accurate navigation all hinged on the invention of a reliably accurate clock that could be kept aboard ship. With this new technology, a sextant to measure the angle of stars and a chart with which to decipher the information a navigator could get a reliable fix on a location.  Ships were safer, lives were saved, new discoveries were made.

As we got faster (planes) and faster (jets, rockets and space machines), deeper and sneakier (submarines and warships), and more independently mobile (billions of individuals with cars) navigation technology has improved right alongside us (LORAN, GPS). Still, I believe I will buy a sextant for a backup navigation tool on the next boat's ditch bag, when it comes to boats sometimes basic is better, and at 300 years old the technology is well proven.

A Compass Rose at the entrance to the Navigation section of the Air & Space Museum

Truer words were never spoken

Along the subject of boats, our RV park is just 25 miles or so from Annapolis. We will definitely be checking into that.